Lance is famous for having a vast and multi-dimensional cadre of advisors and specialists taking care of different aspects of his cycling and business life, a teamed dubbed F1 and acting very much like its high-tech sport namesake. However, it’s not just higher-level athletes that need a trusted team around them. At every level of the sport, particularly younger riders, athletes need to surround themselves with a trusted network of experienced individuals.
Coach – Amongst a coach’s many responsibilities, they are the core or central component and “director” of your team. Your coach represents the hub of the wheel so to speak. There is a not a coach in the world that knows everything. Because of this, I always tell my athletes to seek out information from other sources, but want them to run it through me and we can discuss whether it makes sense or not. For example, they may learn something as simple as a new workout. The coach should also have a role in helping you define the rest of your network.
Physiology – Your coach may have this role, but no matter what, it’s good to have this component as a member of your team. A place or person you can go to for performance testing and most importantly, analysis of data. It’s not good enough just to have a “testing technician.” Rather, it’s vital that the person is able to analyze test results and help adjust your program because of those results. This person should have a B.Sc. or equivalent in exercise science rather than a generic personal trainer or even formal coaching certification. What you are really looking for is somebody who has a true understanding behind the science of the body and how it works for objective input into whether different ideas have scientific validity or not.
Medical – There is so much about sport that has a medical component or underpinning. Athletes put an enormous amount of stress on their bodies. Add in everything else in life and we are always walking a fine line of health. Having a doctor that really understands physiology and sport can be very valuable. I would agree that there are not many of them out there, so search for the one that really understands what you are doing and how your body is different than the average individual. I am biased of course because Dr. Massimo Testa is always my first choice. He has a background in family medicine while being extremely knowledgeable about exercise physiology and has worked with athletes for 25+ years. In Europe, the Mapei center is a good choice, as they have medical doctors on staff and have experience working with athletes of all levels for many, many years. But, in general, a good sports medicine doctor, particularly one who is a general practitioner, is usually a good choice that’s available to a wide range of athletes.
Nutritionist – Proper nutrition is vital to the success of any athlete. Over the past 10 years, requests by athletes for nutritional guidance have ranked right up with the question “how do I climb better?” Proper nutrition and more specifically weight loss are usually major goals of the majority of endurance athletes. Whether you are a masters athlete fighting time on the bike while working a forty-hour workweek, or a Pro Tour athlete, it seems that weight loss (as a component of nutrition) is a common theme. Everyone wants to lose a couple extra kilos. As an experiment this morning, I went to amazon.com and did search on “weight loss” under the books section – 13,999 results!! Needless to say, this is a very popular topic in today’s society. Thus it’s important to have a nutritionist that can help you lose that weight, while not sacrificing the energy you need for workouts and the recovery necessary afterwards. This can be a difficult balance to maintain on your own.
Psychologist – Every bike race takes part on the same course. Yes, you read that correctly, the same course. That course is the 5 inches between your ears…..having a sports psychologist is important to help you accept this reality. Some athletes need it more than others, but understanding your own background and mindset is vital to success. I can tell you that a positive attitude towards what you are trying to accomplish is the common thread amongst successful athletes. What is the definition of a positive attitude? Simple, it’s having a healthy attitude towards competition. It’s working hard with a goal, learning from your mistakes, respecting your competition and continuing to move forward. It’s how you handle defeat and setbacks, versus success.
Mechanic – It’s very important that you have a good mechanic or bike shop that you feel comfortable working with and trust. When you find that person, keep them happy, as they work hard for you to make sure your bike is in its optimal working order. You train a lot, race a lot so having a good mechanic to handle all those small issues is important. Like I mentioned, keep them happy. Mechanics appreciate unexpected six packs of their favorite beer! Also, even though you trust them with your $8K machines, always do a quick check on the work after they give it back to you. They are working with countless other bikes and may forget to tighten a bolt completely and ultimately, it’s your responsibility to check these things.
Bike fitter – Being well fit on your bike is one of the core aspects of optimal performance in cycling. As a repetitive motion sport (think about how many times your knee flexes in the course of an hour on the bike), any mistakes in fit end up being something that we feel in our knees, back, neck, etc. Continuing to ride with an improper fit will result in pain, and possibly injury. Having a good bike fitter (the best understand biomechanics) will help you to avoid these pitfalls. Better yet, the difference between being well-fit on a bike and poorly fit can represent a significant percentage of your potential power on the bike; in a sport where races are often won by people with one-half of one percent better fitness, being properly fit is a huge performance advantage.
Massage therapist/Chiropractor – Although they are different, I put these two important team members together. The right persons for these jobs could be your best friends! There are many different styles of massage and chiropractor work and finding the persons that complement your needs are best. One thing I always found useful was actually using them back-to-back. The massage therapist relaxes you and then the chiropractor can do their adjustments while your body may be more susceptible to their work. Give them feedback and discuss any issues you may be having. Remember that they don’t know what you want or issues you are having, you have to relay that important information to them.
Others – Parents, spouses, friends, both inside and outside the sport are especially useful. Sometimes it’s good to have support from someone who has no idea what you are doing, represents a place to “get away from it all.” At the same time, it’s good to have friends who will support you and who know exactly how hard it is to be successful in bike racing.
Yoga and/or pilates instructors and strength and conditioning coaches are also potential team members. You may not use them all year, but they still are important contributors to your overall fitness and quality of life.
Having a trusted and diverse team or network is essential to being successful. It’s important that each member of the team understands what his or her role is to you as the athlete. Remember though, that ultimately, it’s each athlete’s responsibility to make the final decision and take responsibility for his or her actions and path they take. The network can always be changing with additions and deletions and it’s up to each individual athlete to keep the best people for the job.
Ride safe, ride strong
Bruce Hendler is a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps in Northern California. For the past 9 years, he and his experienced team have helped athletes of all levels achieve their goals in the great sport of bike racing thru cycling training camps, cycling coaching and performance testing. To contact AthletiCamps, visit their website at www.athleticamps.com or follow them on Twitter.